In the two and a half years since I’ve been active on social networks, I’ve met a ton of really interesting and influential people. I love online networking and it works really well for me as an entrepreneur running a virtual business.
However, I’ve been attending more live events and conferences recently and networking in person because I really love meeting new people.
Even if you’re not the host, a speaker or an exhibitor at the event, here are simple ways you can have fun, make an impact and maximize your presence -– and therefore the business opportunities coming your way.
- GET personal
Yes, it’s usually a conversation opener to ask someone what they do, but that’s probably something you can learn in-depth from their website. I ask people questions like: what they will do for fun after the event, did they travel with their family, who’s an interesting person they have met at the event and why. Which of the presentations are they most looking forward to?
It helps to make the conversation more memorable in their minds, and in yours. You may also learn a thing or two about the conference, or other attendees you would otherwise miss.
Make sure you ask for their business card and make notes –- that way when you follow up you can remind them of your conversation and make an instant re-connection.
- GIVE first and you shall receive
The secret to positive networking (the one where you feel good rather than sales-y and slim-y) is to think about what you can do for the other person. When getting to know them, ask what their goals are for attending the event. What are they hoping to achieve?
Listen well. Maybe there is some way you can help by introducing them to someone in your network or sharing information you know. Maybe later on as the event progresses, you meet someone that could help achieve those goals. Introduce them and believe that the good karma will come back to you! (It usually does.)
- GENERATE conversation in the hallways
I was recently at an event with over 600 people and I noticed almost a third were in the hallways, lobby and other places — not necessarily listening to the speakers. Many were clustered in groups of 2 – 4 people. As one of them said to me, “this is where the deals are made.”
I couldn’t agree more. Although I had already met the founders of a company I wanted to meet, a chance encounter by the coffee bar with one of their marketing people is what may lead to a project for us: the marketing person contacted me even before the event ended.
- GO to breakfast, lunch and dinner
Many events include meals, or perhaps a nominal charge for an additional networking opportunity. Go! I once met the spouse of someone I had been trying to meet, at a pre-event reception. After getting to know each other, she offered to connect me with him. Problem solved. So, sit with new people each time and get to know them. I’ve found the most fascinating information about businesses and their leaders from their staff, service providers and peers simply by asking, “What do you think of this company?” The more information you can gather, the better prepared you’ll be when you meet your potential clients. People are lazy and don’t do enough research. Be the exception.
- GREET the hosts
Would you show up to a party and not greet the hosts? Of course not. Make a point of meeting and greeting those who have organized the event. Whether it’s one person or an entire committee, you can easily find out who they are or have someone point you in their direction. Tell them why you are there and what you are looking forward to. They are always interested in constructive feedback. And of course, they are looking to help YOU get the most out of the event. So tell them your goals and ask them if they can help you. After all, a good host will want to make sure you enjoy the party and tell everyone about it.
- GROUP your tweets
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention tweets. Almost every event these days will include a Twitter #hashtag so that people before, during and after an event can easily find each other, see who’s there and take online networking offline (and I’m also finding that people who meet me at an event ask what my Twitter name is and follow me after the event). It’s also good for those who couldn’t attend to see what other people’s experiences are like.
- GRAB the app
With smart phones, social media and sustainability encroaching on all aspects of our lives, it was only a matter of time that the paper event guide would fall out of favor. I recently got to experience a fun and powerful app from Quickmobile that allowed me to pull up each day’s updated agenda, speaker info and bios, event logistics, feedback forms and the attendee list where I could message an individual — all from my iPhone.
Those are just seven of the ways you can turn a live networking event into a huge business opportunity.
As always, think of others first — be gracious and interested — and these face-to-face connections will pay off in goodwill, partnerships, and maybe even some PR.
What tips do you have for making the most of live networking events? Share them in the comments below, so we can all learn from each other.
Elena is founder of a technology PR agency that works with startups to billion-dollar companies. She is passionate about helping marketers and small business owners with practical publicity strategies, which she's also using for her own bling flip flop company.
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